Hearing The Nuances of Sound

Gael Hannan
January 12, 2021

Have you seen that video on social media where a young boy with color blindness puts on special glasses that allow him to see colors?

It’s a real choker-upper to witness his instant, powerful emotion at seeing something he’d never seen before, a beauty that had only been described to him, but never experienced.

And your eyes may have filled up at seeing a video of a baby’s cochlear implant being activated—the wee thing’s shocked eyes and slow, big smile will make your day. And maybe, like me, you’ve seen videos of your friends’ CI activation where they break down into glorious, messy tears at perceiving sound where previously there was none.

These are big changes; black/white becoming colour and silence becoming sound. For some, an epiphany comes with these changes—an understanding that there is more to this world than they expected. These added dimensions are life changing.

But what about the less dramatic changes? Even the bits of improvement in frequencies and volume that come with new or re-programmed hearing technology are powerful in helping us understand speech and other sounds so much better. They gift us with nuances of hearing. The Merriam-Webster dictionary describes ‘nuance’ beautifully: nuance \NOO-ahnss\ 1. a subtle distinction or variation. 2. a subtle quality. 3 : sensibility to, awareness of, or ability to express delicate shadings (as of meaning, feeling, or value).

Nuances of hearing can be meaningful or mundane, depending on what’s important to you.

Has the fridge always made that sound or is something wrong with it? Oh, when the door is left open—really?

I never realized your voice has such a breathy quality to it. No, I like it, I do—I just never heard it before.

Every time I get a new hearing aid, I hear more things—the sibilance of speech, nature sounds, the rich vibrato in some voices—and pluralized words! Before, if you were talking about my cat, I assumed that you were talking about my cats, because I have two of them, and I just didn’t hear the ‘s’ at the end. But now, the lovely hiss of the ‘s’ is audible to me. (If one articulates it properly. Which isn’t always the case.)

But you don’t always need to buy a new hearing device; sometimes a visit to the hearing professional for a spring cleaning, a summer spruce-up, a fall fixup and/or a winterizing treatment can return some lost frequencies, volume and other audible delights.

One benefit, speaking of articulation, is that with better hearing through hearing aids and my cochlear implant, I’m more aware of how inarticulate I can be. Oh, the words I use are just fine, but when I string them together, I sometimes leave off a consonant or two. For example, when I ask someone what they’re doing, I have caught myself saying, out of habit, “whuh y’doing?”  ‘What’s that’ comes out as ‘wuzzat’? But generally, now that I hear myself better, I speak better, a nuance that has been noticed by people close to me.

Cochlear implant recipients are encouraged to practice, practice, practice. With that practice come new perceptions of sound, followed by understanding. I believe that we can do this with our regular hearing aids and through streaming from the television and computer and cellphone to our devices.

Regardless of your level of hearing or type of technology, listen and reach for the nuances in hearing, for the small sparks of sound and understanding. Don’t be afraid to ask someone, “What’s that sound?” What is mundane to them, might be magnificent to you.



  1. Love this! I’m noticing more fine sounds than before. My husband has gotten quite “noisy” with every sound he makes!

  2. When I began to hear with my CI just 2 years ago, I had learn to distinguish the nuances from the nuisances. But it’s mahvellous (oh, now I realize it’s pronounced “maRvellous!”)

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